Richard Lehnert

Richard Lehnert’s poems have appeared in numerous literary journals including The Southern Review, The Laurel Review, Barrow Street, The American Scholar, Nebraska Review, Spoon River Review, Nimrod, and Mid American Review. Lehnert received an M.F.A. in Writing/Poetry from Warren Wilson College.

Books by Richard Lehnert for the Backwaters Press

A Short History of the Usual A Short History of the Usual

Author: Richard Lehnert
Format: Paperback, 89 pages
ISBN: 0972618732
Published: October 2003

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Critical Praise for A Short History of the Usual

Flushed with strong feeling, written with great skill, sometimes shockingly honest, these poems pursue their quarry through the darkest dells and up the steepest escarpments – their relentlessness is heroic, and the secrets Lehnert hunts down are ones worth knowing. Here is a poet who holds himself hostage in an unflinching stare at some of the hardest truths. If there were a poetry medallion for Guy Poet of the year, I’d give it to Lehnert. These fierce interrogations of selfhood and human nature will often leave you breathless.
Tony Hoagland, author of Sweet Ruin, Donkey Gospel, and What Narcissism Means to Me

Richard Lehnert writes with fury, grace, and humility: in other words, he speaks from the central emotions of our daily lives. Again and again A Short History of the Usual shows us how the mundane is inextricable from the eternal, and how recognition of this connection can lead to a transformed life. Witness the last lines of “The Last Restaurant”: “Do you know what you want? / Would you like more time? / Are you ready?”
Dana Levin, author of Wedding Day and In the Surgical Theater

Awards for A Short History of the Usual

The Readers’ Choice Award 2002

Poems from A Short History of the Usual

The Last Restaurant

Somewhere in Tuscany, Provence, Oaxaca,
a restaurant you’ve never seen calls you
all your life, its menu unrequited–
a restaurant so good no one knows it.

It opens for one dinner only;
the officious maître d’ leads you
through the dining room’s underwater light
to a good table by a window.

The sounds of metal on china are small, precise,
from the kitchen a mysterious clank and hiss,
an unparsable syntax of smells.
The waitress is young, tall, forgetful;
her red wine tastes like old books.

She drifts off, and the room slowly fills:
two former lovers gaze in each other’s eyes
as you once looked, separately, in theirs;
your parents, who don’t recognize you;

an African woman and man in crisp white,
fresh from their mass grave’s blank dignity;
your brother, the wounds that killed him
almost healed, sits with your dead wife,
her hair grown back, parted in a new place.

The room is small, but soon the familiar heads
of everyone you’ve hurt, lost, cared nothing for
bow over menus, look up to ask about specials,
ponder the great dualities: animal or vegetable,
wine or water; later or now.

You eavesdrop and never hear your name,
but then someone’s eye meets yours
and he smiles; your mother asks your father
if you’re someone they know; he squints at you,
turns to her and shrugs, complains about the prices.
This is as far as you ever get.
But someday the waitress will remember
and return with her plate of bread and oil
to ask one of three riddles:

Do you know what you want?
Would you like more time?
Are you ready?

The Men’s Movement

Your outposts shut down, break camp,
pack up and head back, it’s been a long recon
but you’ll never take that hill, valley, bridge,
what would you do with it, who did you think you were

so one by one your patrols lurch home
and you can’t believe how beat they are, how old,
they went out boys and come back ghosts,
you can see the moon rise through them

they come back but they don’t come back,
all they want is to sit, close their eyes,
not be on guard, not have to watch anybody die,
they can’t believe there’s a life after this

and they’re right, this tired you don’t get up again,
you think for a while, remember till that’s too much work,
then sleep and don’t wake up and that was your life,
you don’t want it anymore, go home okay go home

so long as you don’t have to live there, live anywhere,
you’d kill yourself but you’re too dead tired
and what you’re most tired of is being wrong about everything
or is it right, working it so hard that when you hear

At ease soldier you don’t know where to begin
and Sir Yes Sir you say Sir what should I fuck up now Sir
and from the long list of all you want
all you want is permission, someone to tell you

it’s over, you don’t have to do this anymore,
enough, stop, and so you stop the one way you know
and enter the dream of death, the one you don’t wake from
so you never say It was all a dream and Oh I see, Oh I get it

all that’s changed is you don’t question anything,
nothing to learn or choose or understand,
like a cow or weed or slug
you just keep happening to yourself.

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